Monitoring Imports to avoid unforeseen costs

Unless an international trader has authorised access to the Customs Handling of Imports and Exports Freight (CHIEF) system, they will be unable to process import (or export) customs declarations.  This means that, by necessity, most traders have to rely on third party agents, such as freight forwarders, clearance agents and other registered parties, to correctly declare goods on their behalf.

However, just because the work is completed by an agent, this does not absolve the trader from the responsibility of ensuring that declarations are made correctly.  Regardless of who does the work, the importer (or exporter) is solely responsible for whatever happens.  The agent only has negligible liability placed on them when something goes wrong.  So, what happens when an appointed agent fails to make the right declaration?  HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) can, through their audit system, actually identify when a mistake has been made.  If this mistake (inadvertent or otherwise) has resulted in a shortfall of tax payments being made to the UK Treasury, then one of the functions of HMRC is to collect any outstanding amounts.


This can have serious implications for an organisation’s profit margin and cash flow.

Consequently, and partially to avoid the above scenario, but also to try and cut down on their workload caused by incorrectly completed entries, HMRC are keen that traders are aware of all declarations made on their behalf.  The simplest and least expensive way that traders can do this is by ensuring that for every import and export made by them, they have copies of the corresponding import and export entries (C88) and that these are checked manually by someone in the organisation to ensure that the correct entry has been made.

Please note that this information, plus other accounting paperwork, needs to be kept for certain minimum periods to comply with statutory legal requirements.  Most organisations keep records for 6 years, but it should be remembered that, in the event of a criminal investigation, trader’s records dating back 10 years may be used as evidence.  Any record kept must be accurate and up to date; legible; readily accessible whether held on paper, computer, microfiche or microfilm and be available for inspection at all reasonable times.

Sometimes, however, traders find that Import and Export Entry declarations are not readily available from their agents, so (for a charge) HMRC can supply most of this information direct to the trader via their Management Support System (MSS).  The MSS is an interfacing database with the CHIEF system and contains archived data for all cleared customs declarations for imports and exports.  This data, which is collated under an organisation’s EORI number, includes information such as entry dates, commodity codes, Customs Procedure Codes (CPC), values of goods declared and taxes paid, and can be delivered electronically via e-mail (to a nominated person in the organisation) in the format of a downloadable Excel spreadsheet.

There are two things that should be noted about this system.  First, not all information available can be released by HMRC, especially items which might compromise HMRC control activities.  Secondly, in agreeing to this method of communication, HMRC are not liable to the trader for the security of the information once it has been transmitted via e-mail on the Internet.

If a trader does decide to sign up to this system, then they must do so for a minimum of 12 months.   However, it is possible to have a single sample of one month’s import and export data made available without charge, to enable traders to assess whether or not the scheme is of benefit to them.  The address to contact about this scheme is

MSS Team
Excise Customs Stamps and Money
10th Floor Central, Alexander House,
21 Victoria Avenue, Southend-on-Sea,
Essex, SS99 1AA

Its also possible to obtain copies of individual entries from the MSS team.  The amount of information supplied is limited, which is why it is known as a Partial Entry, but the information supplied is usually the most pertinent.  Data is held in the CHIEF MSS Database for 4 years only, so any enquires need to be made within this period.  To request a copy, a Partial Entry Request form needs to be completed and sent (along with an original signed letter on business headed paper of the company owning the relevant EORI number) to the MSS Team at the above address.  Both these documents must be signed by a responsible person of the business i.e. Owner, CFO, CEO, Partner, Company Secretary or Director.

This form, as well as additional information about the MSS scheme, can be downloaded from the HMRC website.  Go to the Import and Export page and scroll down to the bottom to CHIEF.  Enter this page and scroll down to the bottom to Management Support System (MSS) trade information.

Maria Narancic from Point to Point Export Services is an independent international trade adviser who assists organisations world wide with their international trade projects, documentation, Documentary Credits and import/export training.  She is based in the United Kingdom.  If you require any further assistance with the matters mentioned above, please do contact us by e-mail on or check out other articles on international trade on the Point to Point Export Services website at


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